Principal may be liable for failure to ensure students’ on-campus safety

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Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
My daughter was seriously injured when she was hit by a branch that fell from a rotten tree within the school premises. Prior to this incident, another student was already injured in the previous month because of falling branches from the same tree. Other parents brought this matter to the attention of the principal who just kept on promising to remove the tree but no action was actually taken. Can I file any case against the school principal?
Anita

Dear Anita,
Compensation may be claimed from a person whose negligence causes damage to another. This finds support under Article 2176 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines that states, “Whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault or negligence, is obliged to pay for the damage done. Such fault or negligence, if there is no pre-existing contractual relation between the parties, is called quasi-delict and is governed by the provisions of this chapter.”

The school principal is negligent under the circumstances. It is his responsibility to ensure or maintain the safety of the students within the school premises. There was a previous incident that happened to another student prior to the incident involving your daughter but the principal failed to take any precaution or action to remove the rotten tree in order to prevent a similar injury to students within the school premises.

Please be guided by the decision of the court in the case entitled Capili vs. Spouses Cardaṅa (G.R. No. 157906, November 2, 2006), where former Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing explained the Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur, which is applicable to your situation:


“The concept of res ipsa loquitur has been explained in this wise:

While negligence is not ordinarily inferred or presumed, and while the mere happening of an accident or injury will not generally give rise to an inference or presumption that it was due to negligence on defendant’s part, under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, which means, literally, the thing or transaction speaks for itself, or in one jurisdiction, that the thing or instrumentality speaks for itself, the facts or circumstances accompanying an injury may be such as to raise a presumption, or at least permit an inference of negligence on the part of the defendant, or some other person who is charged with negligence.

x x x where it is shown that the thing or instrumentality which caused the injury complained of was under the control or management of the defendant, and that the occurrence resulting in the injury was such as in the ordinary course of things would not happen if those who had its control or management used proper care, there is sufficient evidence, or, as sometimes stated, reasonable evidence, in the absence of explanation by the defendant, that the injury arose from or was caused by the defendant’s want of care.

The procedural effect of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is that petitioner’s negligence is presumed once respondents established the requisites for the doctrine to apply. Once respondents made out a prima facie case of all requisites, the burden shifts to petitioner to explain. The presumption or inference may be rebutted or overcome by other evidence and, under appropriate circumstances a disputable presumption, such as that of due care or innocence, may outweigh the inference.”

Applying this decision in your case, the injury sustained by your daughter could not have happened had the principal removed the rotten tree at the earliest time. He therefore failed to iesure the safety of his students within the school premises; thus, he is liable for damages for the injuries sustained by your daughter.

We find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated. We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net.

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